Local Politics

Thursday, Feb 03 2011 11:20 PM

L.A., others sue Kern County over sludge -- again

BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Attorneys for the city of Los Angeles, an Orange County sanitation district and their industry allies have filed a new lawsuit in Kern County Superior Court aimed at overturning Measure E, Kern County's ban on the land application of treated human and industrial waste.

The superior court suit, a follow-up to a failed legal assault on Measure E in federal court, charges that the law passed by Kern County voters in 2006 illegally violates provisions of the California Integrated Waste Management Act, violates the California Constitution by restricting trade inside the state and that, by passing the law, Kern County overstepped its governmental police powers, said Kern Chief Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations.

It also, he said, revives a federal law issue that was thrown out by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That argument, that Measure E violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, was ridiculed in court by the justices of the federal appeals court.

But Nations said Los Angeles is reviving the claim in state court for purely economic reasons -- the city wants Kern County to pay its lawyers' fees.

"They are into this for millions of dollars," Nations said. "That is the only theory in there that would entitle them to attorney fees."

John Franklin, director of communications for the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, said the city won't comment on the case or respond to Nations' statements at this time.

"We just filed the paperwork," he said.

The federal case against Measure E, which made the same claims against the Kern County sludge ban as this newest suit, was dismissed in late 2010 by a U.S. District Court judge. However two issues, the police powers and waste management act conflict, remained unsettled.

Kern County tried to settle those arguments by asking Tulare County Superior Court to take both issues up as part of the resolution of a standing case in that court.

Nations said Los Angeles has, by filing the new case, worked to get around the Tulare County battle.

Nations said the Los Angeles filing will set up a battle over venue.

Los Angeles will try to move the case to a venue favorable to it, he said. Kern believes, he said, that the case should move to Tulare County, where Kern County's previous court battles with Los Angeles over sludge have been fought.

Sewage sludge, called biosolids by the industry that produces and transports it, is the solid waste produced by the treatment of wastewater from urban sewer systems.

Most of the waste from the city of Los Angeles is trucked to the city's Green Acres Farm southwest of Bakersfield where it is spread on farmland as a fertilizer.

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